School Choice

L.A. Schools Will Require Non-Cloth Masks (Even for Sports) and Vaccination Next Year

School choice is the best alternative for parents who are reasonably frustrated with this insanity.

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Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is about to get even stricter with its COVID-19 mitigation requirements: The country's second-largest public school district will force students to wear non-cloth masks that have a nose wire, even while they are outside or playing sports.

L.A. is also slated to add a vaccination requirement for all students, which will take effect January 1, 2023.

The district's mask policy was updated on its website late last week. It states that  "masking will be required at all times, indoors and outdoors. It is required that all students wear well-fitting, non-cloth masks with a nose wire." Staff will have to wear surgical grade masks.

The policy includes no exceptions—and no acknowledgment that masks have proven to be disruptive to various educational, social, and physical activities. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has admitted that masks could make it more difficult for young children to learn how to read. Several months ago, the CDC quietly revised its masking guidance and encouraged schools to let these students wear cloth masks, or even transparent masks.

Many other students find it difficult to exercise and participate in sports while wearing masks. It makes little sense to require young people to keep masking up under these circumstances, when outside the school setting, there is practically zero expectation that people wear masks while exercising outdoors, even in highly COVID-19 cautious cities. Students are virtually alone in that their relevant authorities require vigorous, constant masking.

Even American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten realizes that it can be difficult to understand what a person wearing a mask is saying, which is why she removed her mask in order to be heard at a conference in November.

Perhaps there are circumstances where students might have difficulty hearing their teachers or classmates. Reason's Lenore Skenazy recently interviewed a seventh grade health teacher about the toll that pandemic restriction have taken on her students: One of the main issues was that masks inhibited communication between the kids.

But non-cloth masks are not the only burden coming to L.A. schools: The district also has tentative plans to implement a vaccine mandate beginning next year after previously delaying its implementation in the face of widespread resistance. Legislation proposed by state Sen. Richard Pan (D–Sacramento) would require students throughout the state to get vaccinated. His bill expands upon a previous mandate and eliminates "personal belief" exemptions.

"Legislators have the ability to pass laws to make our communities safe, including increasing vaccination rates to keep schools open and safe," he said in a statement.

Young people, however, are already by and large safe from the worst effects of COVID-19: severe disease and death. Getting vaccinated is the right choice for many students, but other families might have reasonable concerns in some cases.

Mandating that all students get the vaccine effectively takes this choice away from families, since the alternative—permanent remote education—is not acceptable for many kids. That's really what the public education system, in California and elsewhere, is doing: Eliminating choice. The government has decided, contrary to practical considerations and the wishes of many parents, that students must be vaxxed and masked.

The proper solution is school choice: Parents who do not agree with these policies should be able take whatever public funding is budgeted for their kids and invest in an educational option that aligns with their needs. For some families, that could even be a school setting that follows stricter COVID-19 mitigation policies. But the decision should belong to families, not the government.

This week happens to be National School Choice Week, but the public education system's utter failure to handle the COVID-19 pandemic in a manner that allows kids to actually attend school has provided a two-year-long example of why this policy change is desperately needed. If parents want to vaccinate their kids, they should do it. If they want to send their kids to schools that require masks, they should do that as well. But the millions of parents who want to make a different choice have rights, too.